How vets could soon be more culturally competent 

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cultural competence
Photo: milkos 123rf

A world-first effort by an Australian team to embed cultural competence in veterinary science education has now been created. 

Already in use at the University of Sydney’s School of Veterinary Science, the cultural competence curriculum— an overview has just been published in the Journal of Veterinary Medical Education—is particularly pertinent to Australia, which has one of the highest rates of pet ownership in the world and is also one of the most multicultural nations.

 “Veterinarians work with culturally and linguistically diverse teams, clients, and communities,” said Associate Professor Gongora, who is Colombian-Australian and has, with colleagues, been labouring on the project for nine years. 

“Despite this, there is little focus on this as a competency and in an educational setting. Cultural perspectives on animals and differences in communication, consultation and engagement protocols can influence relationships, impacting animal health, welfare, and research outcomes.”

Depending on a client’s cultural background, animals are a source of companionship, food, entertainment and/or are religiously or culturally significant. 

A work-in-progress since 2012, the project—which aligns with industry recommendations—is embedded across seven units of study. A key component is cultural competence toward Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples

 “Understanding a little of how my culture differs from the dominant culture of the vet gives insights into how I may view animals; people of authority; and the language I use,” co-author, Wurridjuri man Dr Stewart Sutterland, said.

Another activity involves students reflecting on their and others’ perceptions of animals when interacting with clients, using interviews of people from diverse cultural heritages: Australian Indigenous peoples, people of Muslim, African and Chinese descent, and an Australian farmer.

Unconscious bias against other social, ethnic and gender groups is also addressed in the curriculum, as is effective communication. 

Based on its success, the team are now developing a compendium of locally and internationally available resources on cultural competence for their students, some of which are already publicly available. 

“What we have done since 2012 is develop a model framework for veterinary schools and other disciplines in animal science that seek to recognise that cultural competence is everyone’s business,” A/Prof Gongora said.

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